Freedom of expression online: How far should it go?

Freedom of expression online: How far should it go?

Summary: Freedom of speech and expression in 'real life' if you will is tricky enough as it is, but online there is a severe lack of regulation and moderation at the best of times. How far should it go?


The Generation Y have been brought up with instant and open communications. The ability to send and receive messages online is innate to us and we sure as hell take advantage of it.

But with the news that on the upcoming anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, something even at my relatively young age still vividly remember, and had the honour of paying my respects at Ground Zero only a few months ago, a pastor in Florida is to publicly burn a number of copies of the Qu'ran in protest of the Islamic faith.

Yesterday's evening broadcast of popular BBC daily political analysis programme, Newsnight, aired an interesting debate between two respected people on the issue.

Freedom of speech and expression in 'real life' if you will is tricky enough as it is, but online there is a severe lack of regulation and moderation at the best of times.

Anonymous messages of spam or bullying, hate speech or similar is as everybody knows is incredibly easy to do. To leave a comment after this post pretty anonymously (to "troll") - calling for me to be killed, kidnapped or beaten senseless on my way home from lectures would be all too easy. You can sign up, enter in false details and write your hate filled comment. The terms and conditions of using this site prohibit it as the very vast majority of community led sites do. But that doesn't stop anybody with an axe to grind.

The best example of this over the years was the 'Google libel' case, where the company was forced in court to reveal the name of a person signed up to Google's blogging service after they wrote libellous comments about a celebrity. The ability to remain anonymous online is relatively easy for standard civilians, but of course the threat of legal action is always there though rarely used.

Social networking should have tamed this in theory, you would have thought. Having your public name, a clickable link in that name to your profile and your accompanying profile picture would surely be enough identifiable information to prevent that person leaving extreme remarks on a status. Well it doesn't, for you optimists out there. You only need to see the popular Breaking News feed on Facebook to gauge how angry people can get over another persons opinion.

Then yet again, 4chan famed for image boards where 'anything goes' with very few exceptions and anonymity is by standard, carte blanche has been given to say anything there. It is a fantastic once-only antique of the web for expressing the freedom to say as and what you wish without caring about offending, because frankly the people there won't be there if they are easily offended. But as Christopher 'moot' Poole says in the TED video above, to say and to do something are two very separate things.

So with this in mind, I ask you wonderful people this:

How far should freedom of expression online go? Should the rules offline apply to the online world, or has the web diluted the meaning of 'freedom of expression' altogether? And did it ever really exist in the first place?

By all means express your rights to freedom of speech. But please do be nice, yes?

Topics: Social Enterprise, Google

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  • Turn the question around.

    Who has the most power to hurt us, individuals who belittle or slander us, or authorities who can literally enslave or kill us? When we as citizens see or hear things that offend or attack us, we have some form of redress through both social and judicial mechanisms. When we are silenced by regulation or censorship, there are no means of appeal or redress. The political prisoners of many countries throughout the world (including Britain and the US) are all too aware of this.

    How does this apply to hate speech, porn, trolls, burning the US flag or the Quran? The same way it applies to infomercials, beer and underwear ads, Rush Limbaugh rants and scientific articles on evolution and global warming. All of these communications are detested by some number of the population, but desired by others. Who is to judge what we can and cannot see and hear? Once they become judge of one thing, they become judge of all, this has been proven time and again. Authorities never surrender power voluntarily.

    It is a fact of human nature that people will surrender almost anything for a perceived short-term gain. People have surrendered their fortunes, dignity, family members, even their physical freedom throughout the ages. They have sold their childrens' birthrights, accepted demeaning constraints, and even locked the collars around their own necks over the ages. It appears we have not conquered this basic flaw in human character.
    terry flores
  • Freedom of expression

    Should go as far as it can without violating the rights of others. Simple as that. I find the burning of any holy book to be offensive as I do of the burning of any flag. Do I think there should be a law preventing it? No, that would be the worst offensive of all. If you begin to limit the basic freedoms where do you start and where do you end? I think the burning of the Qu'ran will be in very bad taste, however saying that why should we be held hostage by a group of extremist? You disagree with them it seems their first reaction is to kill you instead of debate you. Case in point, last night on CNN the head guy over the ground zero Mosque said that if the mosque does not get built that there will be violence. So what he is saying is build my building where i say to build it, if not we will hurt you. Why do we give in to these people? I also watched the marches against the burning of the Qu'ran and noticed they were saying how wrong it is to burn something that means so much to so many people but hey watch us burn the american flag. Really? Is that the way to sway someones opionion?
  • RE: Freedom of expression online: How far should it go?

    Dear Reader,
    As to on-line, the question is being contained in
    a small area, un-less it gives us a shock.
    Why not burn it in private? A book. The Flag.
    No, the person is looking for a Path to some other thing
    which is nothing to do with the ACT. He, They, Them,
    The Other persons, the Extreamists, ect. all want a
    common thing, and that is, for YOU to change your action
    and Thinking.
    Yours Truly,
    Michael Trager
  • Burn your own flags and text, burn a US flag and get deported or go to jail

    I as a US citizen believe in the "Freedom of Speech". But, that being said I also think that not only the TV news broadcasts but the Internet sites that report news, including individuals should be censored and held accountable to what they are posting and announcing.
    For instance the "Weather Channel" a couple of days ago stating that the Earth quake in New Zealand has produced another 'Fault Line'. It has not been confirmed by the USGS or any other Gov't., that the quake has caused another fault line, yet the Weather Channel and other media have already reported that it has. These irresponsible journalistic acts should by default force the FCC to fine these channels, web sites and private persons $250.K without a court date for causing public panic, hysteria and plain old sensationalism to gain ratings.
    This and so many other things on a daily basis just to get their ratings up.
    This is why I don't watch the TV news, newspaper or most anything the web has to say unless I subscribe to it and no it is from reliable sources.
    Hey, if you live in the U.S. and are were not born here go ahead and burn your religious icons, text. If you want to burn an "American Flag" you should be imprisoned.

    Sincerely, Themadczech
  • As far as it doesnt phsycially injure another person

    ugh, this whole religious thing drives me nuts. <br><br>Isreal wants us to inflame the muslims, it would give them good reason to start bombing the crap out of them.<br><br>Then i guess war between christians and muslims would errupt again. I would then sit back and watch billions killed.<br><br>After the war is over, assuming the earth was still whole, you would see a mass burning of all religious books... since all the religious folks would be a minority and the most zealous dead in the war.<br><br>How about we end religion and admit to ourselves that this fallacy we call religion is just to make us feel all warm and fuzzy. It played it role in making us more of a society, but the negatives far outweigh the positives now.<br><br>Maybe with religion gone, we can finally move forward as a planet.